Contactless Culture

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Maryann Pinon is a co-owner of Grind Coffee Co. That means a lot of important choices and quick pivots have been her responsibility as local businesses navigate an unprecedented difficult time.

Local signifies a lot. Most of the time, it means a lot more than just making money off of your neighbors.

Being locally owned and operated comes with an added layer of closeness to the people an establishment serves, entertains, feeds, and employees.

“Essentially what we decided is we aren’t doing justice to our community and we aren’t being authentic in actually caring about the community if we don’t take a very drastic measure, which would be to shut down the dining area completely,” Pinon said.

When operational decisions are made, especially during a pandemic, the ripples effects are something to think about.

Words like “curbside” and “contactless” have taken the food and service industry by storm, but it’s not something that comes easy and it’s impossible without proper planning.

Coffee shops aren’t built for sheltering or discouraging patrons from hanging out with friends or studying, but this has to be put on hold for the greater good, in Pinon’s opinion.

“It’s been really hard,” she admitted. “It’s not easy running a coffee shop where people can’t come out or do their homework. Recently, with Hurricane Hanna, people have been calling to try to connect if they didn’t have electricity.”

They have opened outdoor seating and even offered internet access to loyal customers who need to connect for a Zoom meeting or make calls.

Just steps away from Edinburg City Hall, UTRGV’s Edinburg Campus, and the Hidalgo County Courthouse, Grind had tough decisions to make when COVID cases reached the Rio Grande Valley.

Before COVID worsened from a handful of cases in March and April to a wave of illness in June and July, Grind was proactive about changes.

“What we decided as a crew was to close for two weeks. Myself and my business partner were trying to figure out what’s the best move for Grind,” Pinon said. “We were doing coffee bag deliveries and cold brew deliveries. We found a way to sell coffee to people without having to be in contact. That was the first strategic step that we took.”

The shop elevated their game as the situation continued, turning their webpage into a virtual register and offering online payments.

“Our second one was we added our curbside menu to our website so when people started using that, it was a big thing,” she said. “It was like, ‘hey, purchase through the website, it’s contactless payment’ and all we do is take it to the car and drop it off.”

These creative technological solutions don’t come instantly. It takes brainstorming and consulting to pull off something never done before at a business.

“It took a lot of backend work to figure out what to do and what the steps were to make it happen,” Pinon said. “And it’s still evolving.”

As the pandemic continues, there are other businesses taking safety into their own hands — sometimes beyond the state regulations.

Chopstix Chinese and Vietnamese restaurant in Mission has had the dine-in portion of the store closed for months now. Customers who go inside for take-out are able to buy masks and hand sanitizer on the spot.

During this extended uncertainty, even wedding companies are trying to do their part with socially distant and sanitized ceremonies to the best of their abilities.

These are just further proof that the business and consumer community is in the same boat, trying to weather the same storm.

“We’re constantly trying to improve it. We know it’s going to be a while before we go back to normal,” Pinon said. “As a business, we have the ability to open at 25 percent capacity. We still decided it’s best to shut down the dine-in for the meantime to give our employees an extra layer of comfort. They’re knowing there’s not people taking off their mask in the establishment.”

How has your local business adapted? #JoinTheConversation at facebook.com/rgvisionmagazine.